Casablanca- As the popular uprising which toppled the regime of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi unfolded, both Nabil Al-Khatib and Fares bin Hazam asked me to return to Tunisia where I stayed a few January weeks as a member of Al Arabia news team.
At the time, we were covering the revolution which marked the end of Zine El Abidine’s 23-year-long presidency.
I was tasked with reporting on humanitarian aspects of the Libyan escalations, the refugee crisis taking place on Libya–Tunisia borders and on the airbridge of Djerba Island, South of Tunisia– all of which are places refugees were subject to deportation.
Day by day, I set course on a perilous journey through rugged and hot desert routes with a group of Amazigh rebels who expelled Gaddafi authorities from their city of Nalut and raised the flag of independence for the first time since the coup against the constitutional dictatorship in September of 1969.
Until the day in which anti-journalist militant groups took control of swathes of Libyan land had arrived in February 2011, I made frequent visits to Libya, traveling the roads connecting Zintan, Tripoli, Benghazi and Tobruk.
In an effort to tame the situation which escalated by the minute, after revolutionaries broke through Tripoli, Dr. Mahmoud Jibril, head of the Executive Office (in the mini-transitional government), proposed a plan to disarm unlisted fighters in hundreds of battalions and draft thousands of combatants into the Libyan National Army.
His proposal came only after rebels officially declaring political and armed opposition by forming the transitional council in Benghazi which was also refereed to as the process of “Comprehensive Liberation” and “Ultimate Victory.”
However, Qatari officials rejected the plan and warned against the prospect of disarming rebels. The former Emir of Qatar voiced a similar position at a Paris presser.
Everyone was aware of the threat found in the proliferation of arms and tens of thousands of extrajudicial fighters in highly populated areas, but no one in that early period of post-Gaddafi Libya had the ability to stand up against what Qatari intelligence officers were drawing up in Tripoli hotel suites.
“Qatari officers directed leaders of the armed groups participating in the battle of ‘Fateh Tarablos’ (Arabic for liberating Tripoli) to take over vital targets like the Central Bank, Bab al-Azizia, arms and ammunition stores and intelligence offices,” a Libyan politician said when recalling the string of events related to the militant revolution.
Overrunning such institutions and sites was the first step in fundamentalist militias roaming freely in Libya and weakening the position of the national army. Soon after, militias easily managed to control magnanimous funding and arming sources as Qatari media shored up LIFG member Abdelhakim Belhadj as the de facto ruler of the capital.
The public street was overwhelmed with appreciation to kindness and support showed– Qatar, which presented itself at the scene with vital powers, money and propaganda was showered with Libyan gratitude. All had only saw Qatar’s investment as to help Libya break free from Gaddafi’s iron fist.
It was a while before the Libyans realized that what Qatar had done was not so charitable, but served certain interests.
Actually, Mahmoud Jibril met a better fate than that of Liberation Army leader and Interior Minister Major General Abdelfattah Younis, who was gunned down in cold blood.
I moved to eastern Libya to pursue diplomatic and political developments in Benghazi, which became the de facto capital, receiving international leaders and delegations from around the world. Furthermore, I kept a close eye on eastern battlefronts and the advances made by opposition forces towards Sirte and the capital Tripoli in the west.
A limited distance separated the forces of Gaddafi, midway between Ajdabiya and Brega. And from time to time some skirmishes occurred, but the stalemate on the front continued for weeks and began to spread frustration and poor morale among the rebel fighters, particularly as Ramadan (Islam’s holy month of fasting) closed in accompanied with high temperatures.
Younis had to move swiftly so that the Gaddafi battalions would not return to pose a threat to Ajdabiya and Benghazi while they were on the defensive to repel armed opposition attacks and attempt to break into Brega.
Younis, during his meetings in Rome with NATO military officials and some of the committees of Friends of Libya, proposed a plan to break this impasse, taking intelligence reports and warnings against continuing to arm Gaddafi fighters into consideration. Younis presented a plan that would provide access to more supplies of weapons and ammunition and explain how the armed battalions would prevent access to medium equipment and heavy military equipment, so that cooperation in exchanging information with professional military dissidents would remain only for the benefit of extremist groups.
Qatar shared details of the plan with prominent Islamic leaders in eastern Libya, including Ismail al-Salabi, commander of the February 17 battalion, Mohammed al-Zahawi, Ziad Balam, al-Sharkasi and Usama bin Humaid, because they were deprived from arms and ammunition.
And without them, there would have been no long-standing fighters in the Gaddafi jails and in mountain pockets in Pakistan and Afghanistan and such untrained fighters won’t have any room in the future of Libya.
Younis was besieged in the main operations room near the Ajdabiya gates, which included 100 vehicles with Grad rocket launchers, and was forced to leave under the pretext of summoning him for judicial investigation. In a camp affiliated with Al-Qaeda terrorist organization, he was executed with bullets and his body burned before being thrown into a forest nearby Benghazi.
In the aftermath of Qatar’s intervention, a strong national army capable of dealing with imminent threats, especially the spread of arms and militias, and securing the elections for a future democracy which could have succeeded in restoring stability were made near impossible.
A militia-free Libya, bolstered by an elected government would have ushered in a new phase for the oil-rich country, opening its doors to two major energy markets, Europe and Africa.
Libya gradually slipped into bloody chaos after the relative stability that followed the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime. It is true that voters did not shy away from the polls in the 2012 elections and turnout favored national and progressive forces. Fundamentalists gained less than one-third of the votes. Despite their progress in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt, they managed to impose their will at the ballot box.
However, this ‘will’ remains within polling stations surrounded by fundamentalist armed militias. Qatari support for political Islam that opposed most progressive projects in Libya, was made clear through the media and other resources.
However, all this gave the National Party, founded by Abdul Hakim Belhadj, one of the founders of the LIFG or the Justice and Construction Party, the Brotherhood branch in Libya, nothing but a limited number of seats in the NCP.
The rest of the story is clear– the power of money and weapons was exploited to build parliament alliances that prevent the majority from forming a government.
During the 2012 elections, I was in Benghazi. Observers noticed how the city voted heavily for the National Forces Alliance and how revenge was exacted on Benghazi after it disappointed the Brotherhood and Takfiris by focusing their military arms activities on them and turning them into a bloody “jihad” arena for establishing a religious emirate on the southern bank of the average.
Ansar al-Sharia, Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and the Libya Shield Force united in Benghazi to confront operation Karama (Arabic for dignity) led by Marshal Khalifa Hafter. This melting pot of terrorists consists of a familiar and famous conspiracy that later was supported by Qatar media as “Benghazi rebels.”
Despite this support, the establishment of a fundamentalist government and the establishment of offshore companies to manage Libya’s oil and gas and massive Libyan assets abroad failed. The pace of Somaliland accelerated until it became a failed state. As Berga tribes fought to expel spies and bloodthirsty murderers from Benghazi, they also welcomed legitimate institutions of the country and provided them with protection.
Qatari support has been a means of pressure on the governments of former Libyan prime ministers Abdurrahim El-Keib and Ali Zidane. It resulted in militias earning hundreds of millions of dollars of Libyan oil revenues and the formation of armor forces and councils of the Shura in Benghazi and Derna and Ajdabiya and then extending their control over the Crescent oil area and all the locations where oil and gas reserves exist.
In light of an expanding ISIS in Libya, and the influx of tens of thousands of illegal African migrants, it was up to the international community to prevent the establishment of a self-proclaimed Islamic ‘caliphate’ on the southern bank of the Mediterranean.
Civil strife in Tripoli, Benghazi and the south dragged for a long time. International forces should have stepped in to ward off risks of Libya’s troubles stepping beyond its borders and into neighboring countries. The UN has called for a peace in which all sides to the conflict should partake.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco supported the efforts of the United Nations envoy.
Prince Mansour bin Nasser, advisor to the late Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, and Yasin al-Mansouri, adviser to Morocco’s King Mohammed VI played a major role in the preparations for landmark Libyan negotiations in the resort of Skhirat near Rabat, which lasted for nearly a year.
Nevertheless, negotiations were mostly swayed to the advantage of Islamists and fundamentalists -supported by Qatar- being placed in high-profile posts controlling defense, security, and public assets in Libya.
Eventually, international and regional pressure pushed parties to sign a peace agreement and form a presidential council and a national unity government that runs the country, but this cabinet has so far been unable to assert its control over the capital it shares with a parallel government backed by Qatar.
Having a different approach, Saudi Arabia behaves as a government interacting with institutions through embassies and diplomatic missions to international and regional organizations, remaining at a distance from the Libyan conflict, even before Gaddafi was toppled.
On the other hand, the UAE sought to overcome obstacles inhibiting the Skhirat political agreement through holding a meeting between Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, head of the internationally-recognized Presidential Council Fayez Al-Sarraj, with Marshal Khalifa Haftar, the army commander appointed by the recognized and elected parliament.
Success of UAE diplomacy in Libya is measured by the United Nations and major powers adopting a draft agreement that wisely contributed to dismantling the political Islam system in the capital Tripoli, the west and the center of the country, and to some extent the south.
With the Sarraj-Haftar agreement in Abu Dhabi isolating Islamists who filled positions in the government of reconciliation striving only after financial benefits, Qatar loses its case a little more each day in Libya, especially as the US Trump administration warned Doha on its plot to continue fueling the conflict through supporting extremist organizations that do not believe in democratic rules and the peaceful transfer of power.
More so, the policy of division and chaos and the confusion Qatar drew up has not yet been able to infect neighboring countries such as Egypt, which remains a strong national state.
Undermining Egypt’s national security and occupying the region with meaningless chaos has proved a failed quest.